Wounds are licked, bandages are clean, focus is shifted to the future: the Swamp is behind Tennessee and the University of Massachusetts is on the way to a face-off with the Vols this Saturday at noon. Today, we’re gonna kick things off by exploring the nuances of Tennessee vs Umass and why it matters:
Umass is (no offense, guys) an 0-4 garbage patrol and Tennessee could win this game with its scout team. There are no “meaningful snaps” this Saturday. Tennessee’s only chance to get depth-plussing reps came and went week one. In fact, the only way Saturday could matter is if the coaches leave everyone on the field long enough to end up on crutches. For fans, though, games like Saturday can be a fun afternoon, full of splashy touchdowns and what competitively amounts to “how many points would we like to score?” when these little schools come to town. In the big picture, this game only offers one positive, which is rest/healing. If Tennessee isn’t smart enough to rest critical folks, this game only offers hollow glory and a serious negative: a minefield of potential injuries. And maybe they aren’t smart enough, based on the Indiana State game, in-which starters were taking snaps deep into trash time. In a manner of speaking, all time is trash in these games.
CONFESSIONS OF A PATHOLOGICAL COACH DEFENDER: On the topic of things that absolutely don’t matter, there are this week’s strategy explanations from Butch Jones and Bob Shoop. Somewhere between 1st and Goal from the One, and not having men with their heels glued to the goal line on the final play, there is probably a Tennessee victory over Florida. Maybe not. But let’s be serious. Nobody defends Tennessee’s coaching staff harder than this writer. Almost everything about that job, from the politics to the nonstop recruiting to the public scrutiny, is very difficult. And, as a coach making middle-tier SEC money at a regularly average SEC program, I tend to argue that Tennessee is getting its money’s worth. Kinda elite recruiting, minimal off-field weirdness, great APR, etc. The responses are always variations on “yes, but his in-game coaching and demeanor is, at best inconsistent, and at worst, just actually pretty bad.” My defense is always that his team’s seem to love him and his teams typically compete with fire. And while I’m correct in those two things, I’m also just tired of defending the weird sophomoric brainfarts that seem to plague Tennessee’s headsets in big moments. I’m tired of being wrong. And more than that, I’m tired of explanations from these guys. You dropped into the shotgun on First and a Teardrop, in spite of RB John Kelly abusing and humiliating Florida’s visibly tired defense. You did it and it failed and it sucked. Don’t get on the podium Monday and explain anything about the “70% pressure” blitz they were showing or the system or the check down. Honestly, Dormady hasn’t earned the trust, with his arm, his legs, or his brain, to make any call on his own. Explaining the “thought process” behind dropping into the goal line shotgun is an insult to whoever you think is listening. The same goes for Shoop explaining the final play. These explanations speak down to such a football-conscious fan base. Tennessee fans may be an over-reaching, obnoxious, delusional, psychotic, insatiable audience. I mean, they are those things, bless their hearts. But they know how to watch football. So, even if the ghost of Smokey III lumbers out of the shadows and commands some cute fade pattern, keep it to yourself. Nobody actually cares about some manifesto about the metrics or system or charts. Skip the explanation and use that time watching some YouTube tutorials about goal line offense. There are some incredible middle school FB coaches out there with big ideas about how to move a ball 1 yard.
To be clear: I want this coaching staff to do well. I believe they can. And I would rather saw off my arm and punch myself to death with it than to live with Tennessee fans through another coaching search so soon. In order for any level of success, though, Butch Jones needs to spend more time learning, more time coaching, and let his on-field decisions, smart or ridiculous, speak for themselves.